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Nearly half a million hunters in Arkansas will greet the dawn today for the opening of modern gun deer season.

Although Arkansas is famous for its world-class duck hunting, it is also one of the top deer-hunting states in the South in terms of both numbers of deer taken and quality of bucks, or male deer. The opening weekend of the modern gun deer season is also the state's biggest event in terms of participation.

"Behind Christmas and the opening of Arkansas Razorbacks football season, opening day of the modern gun deer season has got to rank in the top 3, 4 or 5," said Ralph Meeker, deer program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. "We estimate that we have a little over 300,000 deer hunters in Arkansas. Compare that to Arkansas' total [population], that's one out of every 7, 8 or 9 people that deer hunt. That's pretty good."

Keith Stephens, chief of communications for the Game and Fish Commission, said 300,000 is merely the number of licensed hunters who will be afield today. If you include youths younger than age 16 and seniors over age 65, he said the number is actually closer to 500,000. It is a rite that encompasses generations of sportsmen and traditions that have been passed down through generations.

"I remember being a kid and deer season was only nine days long," Meeker said. "Everybody took vacation, skipped school and went to deer camp."

Many rural schools used to close the Friday before opening day of modern gun deer season and the first Monday. The intensity has abated because the modern gun deer season is much longer.

"With longer seasons and the amount of deer we have out there, we want to provide maximum hunting opportunity," Meeker said. "The long season competes with other extracurricular activities, other sports, video games, things like that, but I would say it's still a big big event."

Modern gun deer season is also when hunters kill the biggest percentage of deer. For several years, hunters have killed more than 200,000 deer annually. Meeker said that hunters kill about 30,000-35,000 during the first two days of the modern gun season. Current trends indicate that hunters are on pace to kill a comparable number of deer, he added.

"I think it will be close to 200,000," Meeker said. "We're tracking along pretty good. If we don't go over, we'll be close, and that's probably where we need to be."

To combat the coronavirus pandemic, government officials encourage people to spend time outside. According to the Game and Fish Commission, fishing license sales increased by more than 40% in 2020. Game and Fish officials attribute the jump to coronavirus social distancing mandates. Hunting license sales have increased in 2020, as well, which suggests that more people than usual will probably hunt deer this season, Meeker said.

"Covid has done more to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters than anything," Meeker said.

To hunt deer, Arkansas residents must possess a resident hunting license. New hunters who have not passed a hunter education course may purchase a deferred hunter education hunting license. It will allow them to hunt for one year without passing a hunter education class.

"We want people to be safe, and we want people to complete that hunter education class so they can be active hunters, but we don't want that to be an obstacle," Meeker said. "We want folks to get outside."

Deer hunters are required to wear a fluorescent cap and vest or jacket during the modern gun season. They also must possess a hunting license and proper tags and should carry an ink pen and a rubber band, length of wire or zip tie so they can fill out their tag and attach it to their deer before transporting it. Youth hunters must have their own customer identification number to check deer. Customer ID numbers are available at agfc.com.

Successful hunters may also check deer using a smartphone with the AGFC's game check application, online at agfc.com or by calling (877) 731-5627.

For the fifth consecutive season, the AGFC will sample large numbers of deer for chronic wasting disease, a fatal, communicable disease to deer. Meeker said he encourages hunters to take their deer to the stations for sampling. Detailed information about chronic wasting disease in Arkansas is available online at arkansascwd.com. The site also lists CWD testing locations, as well as veterinarians and taxidermists who are participating in the sampling effort.

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At a glance

MODERN GUN DEER SEASON

SEASON DATES

Today-Dec. 6: Zones 1, 1A, 2, 3, 6, 6A, 7, 8, 8A, 10 and 11

Today-Dec. 13: Zones 4A, 5A, 14, 15

Today-Dec. 25: Zones 16, 16A, 17

Today-Dec. 20: Zones 9, 12, 13

Today-Nov. 22: Zone 4, 5

LEGAL BUCK Definition varies by zone. In most of the state, a legal buck must have at least three points on one antler. Hunters may take any antlered buck in Zones 1, 1A and 2.

SHOOTING HOURS 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset.

GAME CHECK Hunters can check deer by calling (877) 731-5627, going online at agfc.com or with the AGFC’s smartphone application.

DON’T FORGET Hunters are required to wear a fluorescent cap and vest or jacket, and must possess a proper hunting license and tags. Hunters who don’t check their deer electronically at the site of the kill should carry an ink pen and a rubber band, length of wire or zip tie so they can fill out their tag and attach it to their deer before transporting. Hunters born on or after Jan. 1, 1969, must be hunter education certified.

Hunters can help feed less fortunate Arkansans by donating a deer to Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry (www.arkansashunters.org).

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